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Longfellow Commemorative Pitcher
The Longfellow Commemorative Pitcher by Josiah Wedgwood and Sond, c. 1880, shown here on display at the Portland Museum of Art, celebrates the life of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

By OS staff

The Wedgwood pottery, founded by Josiah Wedgwood, has supplied the American market with its products for 200 years. The company did a particularly brisk business in the United States following the War of 1812, as did many other English potters.

In 1880, Wedgewood opened a new branch of business. It began to manufacture commemorative wares exclusively for the American market. This operation of the company is still operating successfully today.

Among the products shipped to America, and never seen by their British customers, are tiles, plates, portrait medallions and numerous other specialty objects. Many of the items are specially commissioned in limited numbers and commemorate specific American events, places or people. These are sold or given away by the ordering institution, such as a city, museum or school.

For some national events, Wedgwood creates the designs for direct sales and advertises these pieces nationally, with sales through regular retail stores. Pieces for the American Bicentennial fall into this category.

“Many of the items are specially commissioned in limited numbers and commemorate specific American events, places or people.”

Starting in the 1880s, the two major importers of Wedgwood wares were Jones, McDuffie & Stratton Co. of Boston and Wm. Plummer Co. of New York. Pieces shipped to these stores often face the store’s name stamped on the reverse. An example of this type of piece was the series of printed historical plates of scenes from Boston, which sold for 50 cents each.

From 1900 to 1930, Wedgwood would print on a set of plates anyone’s house or design on dinner plates in the Queen’s Ware line. It wasn’t very expensive -- the customer could buy them for 25 cents a plate.

Anniversary Wedgwood china
Anniversary Wedgwood china created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the University of Montevallo in 1946.

Throughout this century, special issues have been made that are of particular interest to collectors. One of these was “Liberty China” tea sets. This issue was designed by Mrs. Robert Coleman Taylor of New York as a way to raise money for World War I sufferers. Her design was an American shield surrounded by the flags of the Allies. Mrs. Coleman ordered the china through the Wm. Plummer company, but it was only sold “from tea table to tea table” -- that is, by special direct order. Purchases went to people in 38 states, Hawaii, the District of Columbia and 10 foreign countries. In 1924, she published a small booklet in which she accounted for the money received.

The American market for Wedgwood continues to grow. By the 1970s, over 100 new designs were being issued each year. Previously, many of these are produced in very limited quantities. For instance, James and James, a store in Miami, Oklahoma, commissioned in the 1970s, “The First Americans,” a series of basalt portraits of 12 American Indians. Only 500 of each plaque were to be made. Another recent issue was a series of four busts of the American Presidents, Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Eisenhower.

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